Happy granny and granddad. Flickr/Chris Fifield-Smith.
Allan Massie writes in yesterday’s edition of Reaction that the youth of today should be prioritised in the UK Government’s Covid-19 vaccine push. He quotes Magnus Linklater in the Times, arguing a similar point, if somewhat more stridently. They are both wrong. Here’s why.
To get my credentials in first, I am pro vax. My family and I have had every jab going, and we even had to insist (in an NHS hospital) that our youngest daughter receive the TB vaccination despite being ‘nudged’ away from it by staff there.
Back to the subject in hand. Even the doom-mongers-in-chief at Imperial College state that “age-specific IFRs (Infection Fatality Rates) [are] 0.1% and below for individuals under 40 years”. This is a very low number. For context, consider death not caused by old age. There are unfortunately many ways of passing away before your time, but cancer is one of the biggest killers – it takes 6% of us before our time. Even accidental injuries take 0.2% of us before we are eligible for a ‘natural causes’ one-way ticket to eternity.
No – the only rational justification for the horrendous side-effects caused by lockdowns and other restrictions was to protect the vulnerable, and specifically the older generation, and this only if they were enacted before the underlying virus became endemic in the population. The ship sailed long ago.
I agree that if we had a vaccine that had a sterilising effect – i.e. one that stops the virus in its tracks and instantly stops the patient spreading the virus – then it might be worth considering some sort of wholescale roll-out, subject to the usual safety and efficacy protocols. But none of the recent vaccines has yet been shown to either stop infection or transmission.
Therefore, the only reasons for taking the vaccine are, first, if you believe you have not already had Covid-19, and second, that taking the vaccine reduces the risk of you dying or suffering severe complications from Covid-19.
The speed with which the vaccines have been brought to market means there is no ‘longitudinal’ observational data from the various trial cohorts. The Pfizer vaccine has been given authorisation for temporary supply by the UK Department of Health and Social Care and the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency for “active immunisation to prevent COVID-19 disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus in individuals aged 16 years of age and over”.
Healthcare professionals are being asked to report any suspected adverse reactions. Thankfully, the data shared so far would indicate that these side-effects are relatively minor. But animal reproductive toxicity studies have not been completed, so “women of childbearing age, pregnancy should be excluded before vaccination. In addition, women of childbearing age should be advised to avoid pregnancy for at least 2 months after their second dose”. It is also unknown whether the Pfizer vaccine has an impact on fertility.
So, like any medication, there are side effects. There are pros and cons. For those that choose – or would prefer – to avoid these side effects, there is the option to wait until more data is available.
If the rationale of lockdowns and restrictions was to protect the vulnerable (in particular the elderly), then the only logic is for the vaccine to be offered to them as a priority. For those who do not deem themselves at risk, letting others get to the front of the queue will ensure that, if the vaccine is in short supply, those that want it can get it sooner.
Even at the peak of the epidemic – now thankfully well passed – the young, fit and healthy were overwhelmingly not a burden on healthcare providers. These dynamics are unchanged. It is a false prophecy to infer that this vaccine will stop the spread of disease that is caused by an endemic virus to which the population is known to (now) have a high degree of inherent resistance.
There are many who challenge the value lockdowns and physical restrictions. They most certainly cause harm to all of society (though the ‘healthy wealthy’ are spared). A truly egalitarian society would prioritise the poor, the needy and the young. To do this, we must urgently open up the economy and ensure emergency spending is targeted at those that need help. Let’s kiss goodbye to these harmful restrictions – 2020’s hidden killers – as soon as possible.
Dr Alex Starling (@alexstarling77) is an advisor to and non-executive director of various early-stage technology companies.